Radio has been beleaguered for even longer than the record business, but even so, these are not small start-up operations; the legal fees, transmitter antenna and studio rent, federal licenses, and ASCAP and BMI fees necessary in order to legally play the music can easily veer into millions of dollars. They have money to spend. But by appearances, they're turning to the likes of 99designs.com for their station identity, or worse (I think), holding listener design contests.
Broadly speaking, radio station logos tend to fall into a few categories. One repeat offender is a direction I like to call Suddenly, Ovals! Circles may pop up here and there, but oh, how radio loves the oval. There's apparently just something about the ovoid that says it's time to get the Led out with another commercial-free rock block in a rich, resonant voice.
Lozenges are also popular for some reason:
Perhaps as a direct response to all these rounded shapes, a second category these logos fall into could be called HEY, LOOK, I JUST TYPED OUR CALL LETTERS:
In keeping with rock's disregard for authority, these logos would all look totally bad ass carved into a desk.
Outside of these broader categories, the rest of the unholy mess just descends into chaos.
Of course there are some well designed radio logos — I invite you to share your favorites in the comments—but these seem to have occured almost by accident, or due to the law of averages. For every WNYC — simple and smart — there's ten of the above monstrosities.
As station after station close their doors, or flail between formats in a frenzied search for success, I can't help but wonder whether anyone's considered the visual side of radio, or recalled Sir Michael Bichard's words: ""If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the costs of bad design."